Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay v. Pittsburgh

Picture one hundred and six athletes donning golden polyester pants. Now picture these players wearing pads and helmets, butting heads with one another.

Such will be the scene tomorrow night in Arlington, Texas, as the Packers and Steelers compete in the NFL’s 45th Super Bowl.

Pairing up its gold with green will be Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay club, while Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh team supplements its Steelers gold with black.

But colors - much to dismay of superstitious fans - will not determine the game’s victor. No, the spoils shall go to the team that puts for the best effort and (in most cases) benefits from a little more luck.

So who will take home this year’s Lombardi Trophy?

I'm predicting the Packers to win by four.

Naturally the two cold-weather teams face off in a uncharacteristically cold and icy in Dallas / Fort Worth area. However, the climate-controlled Cowboy Stadium should negate that factor.

So why choose Green Bay as opposed to Pittsburgh?

Two primary reasons, (1) Aaron Rodgers has been the hottest quarterback in football over the past couple of months and (2) Green Bay’s speed - in particular its receiving corps, secondary and lead linebacker.

Sure, at 28 years of age, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger eyes a third championship ring while Rodgers completes his third full season. But Rodgers - despite unrelenting disdain from Vikings and Bears fans - is the better choice for this title game.

Yes, Big Ben seems to have that special knack - despite lackluster numbers - to make the big play and win the big game, but tomorrow is Rodgers’ time to shine.

The 27-year-old led the NFC with a 101.2 passer rating this year and played a near-flawless gem in his last indoor contest - a 48-21 win over the top-seeded Falcons Jan. 15 in Atlanta. By game’s end tomorrow, expect Rodgers to fully vanquish any lingering stigma of his legendary Packers predecessor, Brett Favre.

But enough about Rodgers and Roethlisberger. Signal-callers aside the Pack has other reasons its better equipped for tomorrow’s tilt than Pittsburgh.

Receivers and overall team speed.

The Steelers have arguably the fastest wide receiver in football in Mike Wallace (with Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson being right there with him). However, while Wallace has been impressive - 60 catches, a 21.0 yards-per-catch average and 10 TDs in his second NFL season - his team’s other top wide-out is a slowly fading, 34-year-old Hines Ward.

Green Bay, on the other hand, has Wallace’s superior in 27-year-old WR Greg Jennings; not to mention wily veteran Donald Driver and young guns James Jones and Jordy Nelson.

On a team that spreads its passes to several targets, Jennings totaled team-highs and ranked among league leaders in catches (76), receiving yards (1,265) and touchdowns (12). The fifth-year player is healthy and in his prime, and he’s consistently displayed the capability of both making the key third-down catch and hauling in the homerun.

Driver, Green Bay’s eldest receiver, is older than Ward but still caught 51 balls this year and has been instrumental in the mentorship of Rodgers, Jennings, Jones and Nelson.

Lastly, in terms of the Packers advantage in team speed, is the team's edge at the quarterback position.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger can be very crafty as a runner (with his ability to shake off opposing sackmasters), but Rodgers has proven to have the faster set of feet. He used his quickness to tally 356 rushing yards this season, which trailed only two other NFL quarterbacks - Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Tampa’s Josh Freeman.

Defensively, the Packers also have the advantage in speed.

In the team's backfield, on one side stands 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 7-time Pro Bowler Charles Woodson; on the other side is Green Bay’s postseason standout Tramon Williams - who has three interceptions, including one for a 70-yard touchdown, in three games. The Woodson and Williams tandem trumps a respectable Steelers duo of Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.

The Packers also have the faster linebacker in rising star Clay Matthews.

Pittsburgh’s James Harrison may be the tougher and more accomplished LB - as evidenced by his four Pro Bowl selections - but the veteran was out-sacked by Matthews this season (13.5 to 10.5). The second-year Matthews has excelled in the playoffs as well, using his instincts and quickness to corral a team-high 3.5 sacks this postseason.

While Green Bay may have the edge in quarterback and speed, Pittsburgh definitely has the upper hand in Super Bowl experience.

Roethlisberger (as mentioned above) has two titles under his belt - leading his Steelers to Super Bowl wins over Seattle in 2005 and Arizona in 2008. Moreover, veteran teammates Harrison, Ward and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu were also present and played key roles in those championships.

Then there’s coaching, where Pittsburgh's Coach Tomlin holds the experience edge over Green Bay's McCarthy.

Tomlin has captained the Steelers to its 2008 title, his teams are a combined 5-1 in postseason play and if the Steelers defeat the Packers tomorrow, Tomlin will become the youngest coach ever to have won two Super Bowls. McCarthy is in his fifth season as head coach and will be making his Super Bowl debut.

For me, all this adds up to a 24-20 Green Bay victory.

It’s a tough game to call, but I’m taking Rodgers over Roethlisberger and youth over experience in this contest.

One thing’s for sure, it should be an entertaining extravaganza. Dallas GM Jerry Jones’ 2010 Cowboys team may not have panned out like he hoped it would, but his billion dollar, 110,000 capacity stadium surely will.

NFL fans: Get your popcorn ready, because a record-setting crowd and an exceptionally electrifying atmosphere awaits you as Super Bowl XLV kicks off tomorrow night in the heart of Texas.

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